Budget official: Health Ministry must make difficult decisions

Exclusive: Raviv Sobel says "a lot of demagoguery was involved in the pressure against VAT on produce."

Raviv Sobel 248.88 (photo credit: Judy Siegel )
Raviv Sobel 248.88
(photo credit: Judy Siegel )
Although opposition from MKs, the public and lobbyists eliminated many of the Economic Arrangements Bill's proposed health reforms, the deputy director of the Finance Ministry's budget division told The Jerusalem Post Monday that he was satisfied with the result, which he called a "success" for the division. Raviv Sobel said that "most of the MKs who voted against charging Value Added Tax on fruits and vegetables have told me they regretted their position. A lot of demagoguery was involved in the pressure against VAT on produce." Although public health experts were overjoyed by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's abandonment of the fruit-and-vegetable tax, which they claimed would put fresh produce out of the reach of the poor, Sobel maintained that the tax would have cost families in the two lowest income deciles only NIS 20 or NIS 30 per month. Market vendors had also opposed the measure, saying the tax would be impossible to collect, but Sobel said they "knew very well that they would have had to charge their customers VAT, as they would be charged by their wholesale suppliers. It is very difficult to avoid charging the tax." The division, conceded the 39-year-old Sobel, "did not do an adequate job explaining why fresh produce should be taxed," adding that VAT needs to be levied on all goods and services, and that fresh produce should not be an exception. Sobel joined the division in 2000 as the "referent" in charge of communications budgets and was promoted two years later to point man on allocations for health services. In 2005, when he stepped into his current role, he became responsible for NIS 130 billion in state allocations to health, education, welfare, the National Insurance Institute and employment. Sobel, who has three children, said he favored health promotion and disease prevention in schools and among the general public. Over NIS 400 million is provided to the Health Ministry every year which was not tied to salaries and other mandatory expenditures, but could be spent by the Health Ministry in accordance with its own priorities, he said. Less of that money, suggested Sobel, could be spent on expanding the basket of health services and medications "under pressure from pharmaceutical companies and patient groups and their lobbyists," and more on the prevention of smoking and obesity and the promotion of nutritious diet and exercise. The Health Ministry hasn't done this, he said, because "its senior officials tend to avoid making difficult decisions that would arouse criticism." The public hospitals had "too much influence" on the ministry, he added, which also came at the expense of health promotion. Sobel also voiced his strong opposition to private medical services (Sharap) in the public hospitals, which is strongly advocated by Deputy Health Minister Ya'acov Litzman; the growth in luxurious private hospitals; and the proposed automatic updating of the basket of health services by two percent annually. A full feature based on the interview with Sobel will appear on the Health Page of Sunday, July 26.